COVERAGE – Qantas (nel Restaurant)
In this age of casual diners, shared menus and open kitchens, it’s hard to believe a dégustation-only restaurant can survive. But British chef Nelly Robinson’s Nel – which only offers a set 11-course tasting menu – hasn’t just survived, it’s managed to thrive.
The secret to its success is not only the frequency at which the menu changes (since its opening four years ago, the subterranean restaurant has gone through 36 menus) but also its fun – somewhat eccentric – nature.
Take for instance the restaurant’s recent Once Upon a Time menu, inspired by Robinson’s favourite Disney movies, soundtracks and characters. The soirée kicks off with courses like Spoonful of Sugar (a bittersweet morsel of tuna, caviar and pineapple) and Tick Tock (chicken croquette that resembles Neverland’s legendary crocodile), and ends with Seven Moods (seven chocolates, inspired by the names of the dwarfs from Snow White; pictured above).
And it doesn’t stop there. The arrival of the dishes and their animated descriptions by the staff are accompanied by Disney soundtracks – although, not always matched. So you may end up having the Mad Hatter Tea Party dessert to A Whole New World.
It’s all a tad gimmicky and it would all be a fabulous fail if it were not for the actual food, which – in the end – is downright delicious. A case in point? Bippity Boppity Boo (pictured above) – a large hollow pumpkin that opens to reveal a small squash, also hollowed then filled with pumpkin veloute and crisp pasta. It’s got texture, crunch, flavour and drama, and it’s clearly the dish of the day. The fairy godmother would be pleased.
Atmosphere: Fine-dining with an edgy vibe
Best for: First dates, special occasions or just a fun night out with friends
Cuisine: Modern Australian
Standout dish: Bippity Boppity Boo
Open: Tuesday to Saturday for dinner
Address: 75 Wentworth Avenue, Sydney
Phone number: (02) 9212 2206